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Published in the 16-30 Apr 2004 print edition of MG; send me the print edition

A Journey to Pakistan: impressions of an Indian lawyer

Having just returned as a member of the Indian SAARC Law delegation to Pakistan, I am incessantly amused when people back home ask me if we were subject to any hostility or antagonism in our neighbouring state. And while I am only amused at such queries, their inquisitive querists find it impossible to believe in the truth of my response. The truth is that having widely travelled out of my country and having played host to many a foreign guest, I have yet to come across people like our Pakistani friends whose warm conviviality and kind hospitality can be matched only by the love and friendship of which they are a delightful quintessence. 

Left to right : Haider Z Qureshi, Advocate, Lahore ; Abhishek Manu Singhvi, ex-Addnl. Solicitor General, India, Hemant Batra, Rakesh Munjal and Syed 
Left to right: Haider Z Qureshi, Advocate, Lahore; Abhishek Manu Singhvi, ex-Addnl. Solicitor General, India, Hemant Batra, Rakesh Munjal and Syed 
Saif Mahmood at Allama Iqbal Int Airport, Lahore

It was 5.30 pm on Thursday, 19th February when 40 members of the Indian SAARC Law delegation - only three amongst them being Muslims - boarded the PIA flight from Delhi to Lahore and were specially welcomed by the captain just before being airborne. In less than an hour, we were walking into the splendid International Arrival terminal of Allama Iqbal International Airport. The elegant splendour of the Airport intuitively made me remember a Persian ode of the great poet after who the airport takes its name. Iqbal chides the Creator of the universe: 

Tu shab aafreedi, chiraagh aafreedam
Saqaal aafreedi, agaam afreedam

Bayabaan-o-kohsaar-o-raagh aafreedi
Khayabaan-o-gulzaar-o-baagh aafreedam

Thou madest the night, I the lamp to light it.
Thou madest clay, I moulded it into a goblet.
Wild wastes, mountains and jungles were made by Thee,
Orchards, flower lands and gardens were laid by me.

Indeed, our natural resources were favourably comparable to theirs - ours much more in quantity than theirs, our wherewithal much superior to theirs. Yet, we did not deem it important enough to make better use of them and receive our foreign guests at one decent airport. As a senior member of our delegation put it very well, "their airports would make us run for our money". We had to take a connecting fight out of Lahore in to Karachi in four hours. These four hours were spent at the airport chatting with locals who had identified the commonality of our cultural baggage. 

At about 10 pm, we were again airborne for Karachi, this time in a domestic pristine Boeing 777 aircraft which landed in Karachi at 11.45 sharp. A more bravura airport and a warmer reception. It was well past midnight when we left Karachi Airport for the Karachi Sheraton where the delegation was to stay and where the Conference was to be inaugurated the next evening. At that heavenly hour, the numbers in which our hosts were present to receive us and the sincere warmth with which they welcomed us would have made even the frailest traveler instantly recover from the most grueling jetlag. Sheraton is amongst Karachi's best but in no manner comparable to our five stars. Especially after the comforts that the Indian hotel industry spoils us with, the Pakistani hotel industry leaves a lot to be desired. 

We were in Karachi for five days and for most of us, these five days, were amongst the most incredible ones ever. From private lunches and exclusive dinners to roadside eating and bay watching at Clifton, cutting across all classes and categories of people, we found ourselves being received by only one sentiment - love. The moment your "Indian" identity is disclosed, you find oodles of people rushing up to you, wishing to talk to you, offering local assistance and wanting to load you with gifts. While the Onyx seller in Sadar sells you a thousand-rupee vase in five hundred because you are an Indian brother (Hindustani Bhai), the local PCO-wallah refuses to charge you for phone calls made back home as you are his guest (Mehmaan) and your host driving you around Karachi - whom you have met for the first time - does not let you pay even for the most expensive designer wear purchased from the most up market mall. 

We were stupefied at this unanticipated reception. We found it even harder to shun our unfounded notions about the status of women in Pakistan and admit that Pakistan does not discriminate against its women any more than we do. We were also dazed at being told by our friends in the profession that Pakistan subscribes to the same principles of rule of law and equality before law, as we do. To carry home written evidence of this understanding, we queued up the law books stall at Sheraton which ran short of copies of the "Constitution of Pakistan" just as soon as some of us realized that one existed.

The 10th SAARC Law Conference was inaugurated by Pakistan Chief Justice Nazim Husain Siddiqui on the evening of Friday, 20th February amidst a galaxy of jurists, judges, academicians and lawyers from all over South Asia and concluded two days later in the afternoon of Sunday, 22nd February with the addresses of Chief Justices of all SAARC member states. While an impressive "Karachi Declaration" was signed by the SAARC Chief Justices, the Conference delegates came out with a list of proposals after having discussed threadbare technical and legal issues concerning the region.

I do not know how far the Chief Justices' Declaration or the Delegates' Proposals will take us in establishing a legal entente cordiale between the two countries. But, like most of my SAARC Law colleagues, I do know that the personal bonds of attachment and friendship that we have created in our neighbourhood in these five days will only be augmented in the times to come. 

[The author is Advocate, Supreme Court of India and Member, South Asian Association for Cooperation in Law.] 

Syed Saif Mahmood

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